United, City play Euro catch-up
Dominance has been the domestic watchword of both defending champions Manchester United and current leaders Manchester City in the English Premier League so far this season. But Europe is proving a different story.
In two UEFA Champions League outings to date, neither City nor United have managed a single win between them, making Tuesday's matches crucial. Despite his side's bright overall start, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has bemoaned recent defensive lapses.
Saturday, he was critical of Ryan Giggs for leaving the wall to allow Steven Gerrard to score for Liverpool in a 1-1 draw at Anfield. "We have got to defend better. It's exactly the same as last season," said Ferguson, who was reciting the same mantra three weeks ago after United squandered a two-goal lead in a 3-3 home draw with Group C rivals FC Basel.
"We threw the game away," Ferguson said of that showing, which left Basel in the unlikely position of group leaders with Benfica also two points clear of the men from Old Trafford.
Having failed before to get out of a group containing the Portuguese - who held United in Lisbon - Ferguson will not expect to get caught a second time as he chases a third Champions League crown after 1999 and 2008, as well as a fourth final in five seasons. A first group win of this campaign on Tuesday is now urgently required at Romanian outfit Otelul Galati, already beaten both by Basel and Benfica, who face off in Switzerland.
City's learning curve
City are meanwhile learning the hard way that money cannot buy experience at this level as they tackle their debut season in the competition. A draw at home to Napoli and defeat at Bayern Munich have left Roberto Mancini's side desperately needing three home points against Group A tailenders Villarreal.
The Bayern loss not only punctured City's recent cash-induced aura of invincibility but also jolted morale with the media raking over the Carlos Tevez saga after the Argentine allegedly refused to appear from the bench. But Mancini's men showed in dismissing Aston Villa on Saturday that the players themselves are making light of the Tevez unrest.
Ahead of the Villarreal face off at the Etihad Stadium, Mancini said: "I think the only problem we had in Munich was the result. For 50 minutes we played very well and should have had two penalties."
City will hope that Bayern, who are proving unstoppable in Germany, can bring Napoli back to earth at the Stadio San Paolo after the Italians' strong start. The Bavarians head to Italy after crushing Hertha Berlin on Saturday but will not underestimate rivals, albeit ones playing in their first European Cup campaign in 21 years. Napoli suffered a blow with a weekend home loss to Parma which took some of the gloss off their recent good form.
In Group B, many eyes will be on crisis club Inter Milan, European champions under Jose Mourinho only 17 months ago but struggling with four defeats in six matches in Serie A as they head towards the drop zone. But new coach Claudio Ranieri saw the side bag a 3-2 win at CSKA Moscow which went some way to making up for a shock home loss to Turkey's Trabzonspor.
That put the Nerazzurri - winless in their past six meetings with French opposition - a point clear of French champions Lille, whose inability to protect leads has cost them dearly in two draws to date. The two face off in France in their first ever meeting while Trabzonspor look to inflict a second home loss on CSKA.
In Group D, Mourinho's current side Real Madrid take on a Lyon side they know well from recent encounters. The pair meet for the third time in as many seasons - Real sent them packing 3-0 in last year's round of 16.
Lyon playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, just back after nearly six months on the sidelines with ankle trouble, hopes to make the date at the Bernabeu with youngster Clement Grenier out injured. Real lead the way with a perfect record to date with Lyon on four points with four-time champions Ajax needing a win at Dinamo Zagreb to stay realistically in contention.